You've said “yes!” and your mind is racing with wedding possibilities. Before you jump head-first into planning & purchasing for your wedding, you really do need to talk about the least fun part of planning. The dreaded "B" word. No, not Bridezilla.
Yeah, I get it. Who wants to talk about dollars and cents when you could be discussing dresses and flowers? I have to be honest, though. Unless you have a truly unlimited budget, this discussion is a must, and sooner rather than later is best. Why? Because those numbers actually show you the wedding you can afford to have in a way that makes everyone happy – including your wallet.
At this point, you’re probably asking, okay, so how do we even start this conversation? Is there a secret formula or do you just pull a number out of thin air? Thankfully, the answer to that last question is no. There isn’t a secret budget formula and arbitrarily picking a budget number is probably asking for trouble. There's a better way.
No matter what your final budget “number” happens to be, using the 8 guidelines below can help you get to that decision with a minimum of fuss and tears. Let’s dive in!
1. Have a frank, honest discussion about who's paying for what.
I can’t begin to tell you how important this step is to the process. Yes, discussions about money can often make people cringe in discomfort. No one really want to put a "price" on their dream, but it has to be done. Knowing precisely what everyone is prepared to bring to the table at the beginning of the planning process can save a lot of hurt feelings (or broken dreams!) down the road.
Whether you plan to pay for everything as a couple, or if one (or both) set(s) of parents are helping cover the cost, sit down and discuss it - as calmly as possible. Don’t just assume that one party is paying for something because “that’s just how it’s done.” Write down exactly what each party is paying for, and how much they are contributing towards that line item. This will give you a realistic starting point for the rest of your number crunching.
PRO TIP #1: Remember that "those who pay, have a say" in your wedding. Keep that in mind when you accept financial help from anyone. (This point could really be a blog post all on its own, but for today we'll stop here.)
2. Decide how many guests you want at your celebration.
This is the second major consideration you have to think of when deciding a budget. Every person you invite is an extra cost you have to cover. Having 500 guests will be more expensive than having 100 guests regardless of whether you're having cake-and-punch or a multi-course formal plated dinner.
When you make your initial guest count, it doesn’t have to be exact, but it needs to be pretty close to the final number you’re inviting. Knowing your guest count can help you figure out how much money per person you have to spend on catering, alcohol, favors, etc.
3. Do your homework on wedding costs in your area.
This is where having a planner can be so worth the investment! You may think catering will only cost $2000 for 100 people, but if the actual cost for your area is closer to $6000 for 100 people, that can be a budget killer. Same principle applies to every major vendor category.
A planner can help you understand the wedding costs in your market and guide you towards suitable choices based on your budget parameters. When you read wedding blogs, remember that the numbers you see are an average cost and may not be indicative of costs in your own area. Research, research, research!
4. Decide which season, day of the week, and time of day you want to have your wedding.
In most areas, there is a peak events season (generally spring and fall). There is also a peak event day (Saturday), not to mention a peak time of day (evening). If your heart is set on a Saturday evening wedding in October or April, be aware that you’ll pay a premium for that prime date & time because it's the most sought after time slot. The Law of Supply & Demand, remember?
If you’re flexible, then you have added negotiating power. Fridays, Sundays, and even late morning wedding are becoming quite popular as couples realize they can still have a stylish wedding at a fraction of the cost of a a Saturday evening wedding!
PRO TIP #2: Select a date that’s about one week prior to the start of peak season (or one week after peak season ends). The weather will still be similar and you can get the same benefits of a peak-season date for less.
PRO TIP #3: The earlier you can pick a wedding date (after you've nailed down your budget of course!), the more flexibility you'll have finding vendors with your date available. Some venues & vendors start booking up to 18 months out.
5. Make a list of your major “must have” items.
If you’re a music buff, then having a killer DJ is probably pretty important to you, so it makes sense to allocate more for the DJ or band. Same thing goes for great food if you’re a foodie, or a custom-made suit or gown if you’re into fashion.
If a particular item (say, flowers or decor) isn’t that important to you, devote less of your overall budget to that item, and use the money where it matters most. It's all about balance.
If ALL the major categories (catering, music, photography, venue, etc.) are equally important to you, see Rule #2 again. You can still have all the wedding elements you’re after, but the trade-off is to either reduce the guest list or increase the budget. You have to lead with your vision or lead with your budget. See why the guest count is so important?
6. Make good financial decisions.
Yes, it’s easy to get swept up in all things wedding, but these budget decisions are your first financial steps as a new family. Start off on the right foot. Create a separate wedding account so the finances of your wedding are separate from your everyday finances. That will make it easier to track purchases for the wedding as well.
If it’s one of your “must have” items you want to spend a bit more on, that's fine, just use good judgment. Spending an extra $2000 on EVERY category is going to result in big trouble really quick.
You may want to add that fourth signature cocktail with top-shelf liquor, but will your guests complain if you only have three? Or even two? Unless they’re extraordinarily picky about their liquor, probably not. Shopping smart doesn’t mean your wedding vision will suffer, and you don’t have to have the most expensive version of an item for it to be meaningful to you or your guests.
7. Set aside about 10% of your final budget number as a buffer for unexpected costs.
You never know when an unexpected cost will occur (dress alterations, last minute transportation, gratuities, etc.). Give yourself a little wiggle room so you’re not stressed out over finances the day of your wedding. You’ll thank me for this later, I promise. And if you don’t end up using your emergency fund, put it towards your honeymoon, a house, or something else equally fabulous.
8. Understand that 'the Joneses' exist only in your head, so don't be money-shamed!
Contrary to popular belief, your wedding day is NOT about the flowers, the dress, the guest list, or even the venue. It’s about standing in front of the world with the one you love, declaring you want to be with them forever. Whether you spend less than $1000 or over $1M to make that happen, who cares? Don’t allow anyone to make you feel ashamed of the amount you’re spending! Unless you divulge specifics, no one will ever know.
Spend what you can comfortably afford and don’t worry about the rest of it. There’s no set dollar threshold that separates a 'good' wedding from a 'great' one. Be authentic to yourselves as a couple and let the Joneses worry about themselves.
So there you have it, my dears. You’re now equipped with the knowledge you need to develop your budget, create the wedding you always envisioned, and do it with a minimum of stress and frustration. Have questions? Want to share your budget-building prowess with other couples? Drop me a line in the comment section below. If you have other budget questions you want answered in a future post or you're ready to get started planning your wedding, let me know.